Verney, Ernest Basil

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(b. Cardiff, Wales, 22 August 1894; d. Cambridge, England, 19 August 1967)

physiology, pharmacology.

Verney, an important figure in renal physiology from the 1920’s through the 1950’s, was the fourth son and fifth child of Frederick Palmer Verney and Mary Ann Burch Verney. Part of his childhood was spent on his parents’ farm at Hever, Kent. From 1904 to 1910 he attended Judd School, Tonbridge, and from 1910 to 1913, Tonbridge School, studying first classics and then science. Encouraged to pursue a career in medicine by science teachers at Ton-bridge, he competed for and won an exhibition in science at Downing College, Cambridge, in 1913. At Cambridge, Vemey studied anatomy, physiology, physics, and chemistry, and in 1916 obtained a first class in part I of the natural science tripos. Also in 1916 he entered St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, with a scholarship, clerking under J. H. Drysdale. After receiving his M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. in April 1918, Verney joined the British Army as a medical officer, and served until October 1919. From demobilization until March 1921, he was house physician, first under Drysdale at St. Bartholomew’s, then under Geoffrey Bourne at the East London Hospital for Children (Shadwell). At Shadwell he met Ruth Eden Conway, a resident medical officer. They were married on 10 April 1923, and had two sons and a daughter.

The year 1921 was one of decision for Veraey. He was drawn to clinical medicine, but still more strongly to experimental medical science, which held out the possibility of understanding the processes underlying health and disease. While serving as house physician to Drysdale (1919–1920), Verney had seen two boys on the wards die in uremic coma. That experience prompted an interest in renal function that took him first into the existing literature and then into a career of research in the field. Vemey’s decision for research was sealed by his meeting in the summer of 1921 with Ernest Henry Starling, professor of physiology at University College, London, and his appointment as assistant at Starling’s Institute of Physiology.

In the congenial, energetic, and intellectually intense atmosphere of Starling’s department, where he worked from 1921 to 1924, Verney gained invaluable laboratory experience and conducted research that issued in his first publications. He later described Starling as “the lineal scientific descendant of Claude Bernard,” in the sense that both men recognized that functions could not be understood apart from their integration in organism and environment. Verney took as his own the aim that he ascribed to Bernard and Starling: “to detect and to measure the precise means whereby that coordinated interplay of function which we dimly perceive in the living animal is effected.” To that end he made use, whenever possible, of the whole, conscious, and contented animal, and attempted to minimize the disturbances of experimental intervention.

A superbly skilled surgeon, Verney achieved experimental controls by manual operations and the use of simple mechanical devices that he often designed and constructed himself. These traits are well exemplified in the work on renal physiology that he began under Starling and that occupied most of his career. By using the heart-lung preparation invented by Starling to perfuse the kidney with blood, Verney took a major step beyond earlier reliance on isolated kidneys perfused with saline solutions. By successfully exteriorizing the renal artery and placing the kidney subcutaneously, Verney was able to control the renal blood supply and measure variations in length of the kidney without hindrance to his experimental animals. He could measure and regulate blood pressure and flow to the kidney by means of flow meters and compression units placed around the renal artery, and devised ways of adjusting these units, again so as to minimize disturbances to bis animals. Starling’s laboratory 110 doubt reinforced other qualities that informed alt of Ver-ney’s subsequent scientific work, including meticulous planning of experiments, high standards, stamina for many consecutive hours in the laboratory, and familiarity with the writings of earlier physiologists.

In his work with Starling, Verney used the heart-lung-kidney preparation to study the relationship of the physiological excretory response of the kidney to the rate of blood flow through, and blood pressure in, the perfused organ. Verney and Starling also examined, among other things, the effects of asphyxia and cyanide in stopping tubular activity. In 1902 Starling had coined the term “hormone” to denote function-controlling substances released within the body. One of the results of Verney’s work with Starling was their suggestion that a pituitary principle or principles control water excretion by the kidney. In Verney’s first independent paper, published in 1926, he showed that the perfused kidney could be made to excrete concentrated urine if the intact head of a dog was included in the circuit. If the pituitary was then removed, polyuria (excessive passage of urine) developed. He concluded with the then novel suggestion that the secretion of the pituitary is continuous, and that the kidneys depend on this substance for normal physiological function.

In 1923, while still at Starling’s institute, Verney began collaborative research on cardiovascular reflexes with Ivan de Burgh Daly. Their aim was to study the relations of heart rate, aortic pressure, atrial pressure, and nervous reflexes. As an extension of this work, which continued at intervals until 1937, they tried to determine whether reflex effects on the heart and systemic circulation could be attributed to receptors in the pulmonary vascular bed.

In 1924 Verney was appointed assistant in the Medical Unit at University College Hospital, London, under T. R. Elliott, and in 1926 he accepted the chair of pharmacology at University College, London. In 1934 he became reader in pharmacology at Cambridge University. He remained at Cambridge for the rest of his career, becoming the first Sheild professor of pharmacology in 1946 and emeritus in 1961.

Apart from the early work with Daly on cardiovascular reflexes, Verney devoted himself almost entirely to study of renal function. In work that extended from the 1920’s through the 1950’s, he and his collaborators clarified important ways in which water balance is controlled and modified, and described several aspects of renal hypertension. Among other things, Verney showed the importance n the pressure of the blood supply to the kidney. He compared water diuresis, diabetes insipidus, and he behavior of the isolated kidney, and showed that nervous control of the kidney did not play a significant role in water excretion. In research published between 1938 and 1945, he investigated the inhibition of water diuresis by exercise and emotional stress, showed that small doses of pituitary extract (could inhibit water diuresis, and calculated the quantity of the pituitary substance called pituitrin, later antidiuretic hormone) that had to be released Ito maintain a low rate of urine flow.

With Marthe Vogt, Verney published research in 1938 and 1943 in which the effects of renal ischemia (deficiency of blood due to constriction or obstruction of a blood vessel) were investigated by experimental production of hypertension. One conclusion of this 1 work was that the rise in blood pressure was due I to a substance formed in the kidney and released i into the bloodstream. In 1945 Verney published a study of the role of the sympathetic nervous system in the inhibition of the release of pituitrin, and in 1955 a detailed account of intrarenal events following oral intake of water or saline solution by dogs.

In 1957 Verney published the results of work, spanning some fourteen years, on the existence and location of osmoreceptors. This research originated in the suggestion that in water diuresis, secretion of the antidiuretic substance by the neurohypophysis (posterior lobe of the pituitary) was inhibited. This implied that the secretion was governed by some other factor, probably the osmotic pressure of the carotid artery plasma. Experiments confirmed the idea. Verney called the entities sensitive to changes in the osmotic pressure of the plasma “osmore-ceptors,” and said that they must have a nervous connection with the pituitary. After a great deal of preliminary work on cerebral blood distribution in the dog, Verney attempted to localize the osmoreceptors by ratracraiuatty Ugating branches of the internal carotid artery. He concluded that the osmoreceptors were in the anterior hypothalamus.

On two occasions Verney transferred his research to the University of Melbourne, for six months in 1957 as a visiting professor, and for three years after his retirement in 1961 as the holder of a personal chair. He was much appreciated by colleagues in both Britain and Australia, not only for his superlative qualities in the laboratory but also for his remarkable memory and erudition, vivid imagination, keen sense of humor, and lively hospitality.

Formal academic honors came Verney’s way. Elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1936, he held invited lectureships in the 1940’s and 1950’s at the universities of Edinburgh, Birmingham, Harvard, and Dublin, and at the Royal College of Physicians of London and the American College of Surgeons. In 1957 he was awarded the BaJy Medal of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1967, the year of his death, Verney was elected honorary member of the British Physiological Society, and was awarded the Schmiedeberg Plakette of the Deutsche Pharmakologische Gesellschaft.


I. Original Works. A list of Verney’s published works is given by I. de Burgh Daly and L. Mary Pickford (see below). The following selection is meant to represent the aspects of Verney’s research discussed in this article. For the early work on renal function, see “The Secretion of Urine as Studied on the Isolated Kidney,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society, B97 (1925), 321–363, with E. H. Starling; and “On Secretion of Pituitrin in Mammals, as Shown by Perfusion of the Isolated Kidney of the Dog,” ibid., B99 (1926), 487–517. For Verney’s collaboration with Ivan de Burgh Daly, see “The Localisation of Receptors Involved in the Reflex Regulation of the Heart Rate,” in Journal of Physiology, 62 (1927), 330–340, with I. de Burgh Daly; and “Sensory Receptors in the Pulmonary Vascular Bed,” in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology, 27 (1937), 123–146, with I. de Burgh Daly, G. Ludany, and Alison Todd. The later work on renal function is represented by “Goulstonian Lectures on Polyuria,” in Lancet, (1929), 1 , 539–546, 645–651, 751–756; “The Absorption and Secretion of Water by the Mammal,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society, B112 (1933), 496–547, with A. Klisiecki, Mary Pickford, and P. Rothschild; and “The Antidiuretic Hormone and the Factors Which Determine Its Release; Croonian Lecture,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society, B135 (1947), 25–106. The latter paper is a classic summary of Verney’s work on the subject.

Verney’s publications with Marthe Vogt on renal hypertension include “An Experimental Investigation into Hypertension of Renal Origin, with Some Observations on Convulsive ‘Uraemia,’” in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology, 28 (1938), 253–303; and “Observations on the Effects of Renal Ischaemia upon Arterial Pressure and Urine Flow in the Dog,” ibid., 32 (1943), 35–65. The search for osmoreceptors culminated in Verneys publication with P. A. Jewell of “An Experimental Attempt to Determine the Site of the Neurohypophyseal Osmoreceptors in the Dog,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B240 (1957), 197–324. Verney published an appreciation of his teacher and collaborator that includes a description of the heart-lung preparation: “Some Aspects of the Work of Ernest Henry Starling,” in Annals of Science, 12 (1956), 30–47.

Verney’s collected papers, including laboratory notebooks, photographs, drawings, and artifacts, are at the Physiological Laboratory, Cambridge University.

II. Secondary Literature. The most extensive treatment of Verney’s career and scientific work is I. de Burgh Daly and L. Mary Pickford, “Ernest Basil Verney 1894–1967, in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 16 (1970), 523–542. Daly published a short (unsigned) version of this article in Lancet (1967), 2 , 518–519. Brief notices on Verney’s life were published by Geoffrey Bourne in British Mecal Journal (1967), 3 , 686, and in St. Bart’s Hospital Journal, 72 (1968), 119–121; A. S. V. Burgen, in British Medical Journal (1967), 3 , 621–622; and Mary Pickford in Nature, 215 (1967), 415. An appreciation of Verney’s work in renal physiology is J. T. Fitzsimons and W, J. O’Connor. “E. B. Verney’s Demonstration of “The Antidiuretic Hormone and the Factors Which Determine Its Release,” in Journal of Physiology, 263 (1976), 92P–93P. Verney’s work on osmoreceptors is discussed in Carl W. Gottschalk, Robert W. Berliner, and Gerhard H. Giebisch, eds., Renal Physiology: People and Ideas (Bethesda, Md., 1987), 290–298.

John E. Lesch

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Verney, Ernest Basil

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